Derek E. Daniels, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, is an associate professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Wayne State University, where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses. He received a 2018 Excellence in Teaching Award from Wayne State University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Dr. Daniels has been a certified speech-language pathologist since 2002. He also serves as an Associate Editor for the Journal of Fluency Disorders. Dr. Daniels is a person who stutters, provides clinical services for people who stutter, and supervises graduate student training in stuttering. He has participated in many self-help events, workshops, and clinical training programs for people who stutter, including Camp Shout Out. Dr. Daniels’ research focuses on public perceptions of people who stutter, identity construction, psychosocial experiences, and intersectionality. He is the current President-Elect of the Michigan Speech, Language, and Hearing Association.
I attended a conference for creative writers a few years ago. It was located in a small town in northern Michigan. I was one of the youngest participants there, and the only Black person. During the open mic, I volunteered to read a couple of poems I had written. While most in the audience were probably eager to read what they had written, my mind kept wrestling with the notion of disclosure – should I disclose myself as a person who stutters, and if so, how? I ended up not disclosing, and, as I read, felt quite a bit of anxiety about wondering whether or not I would stutter.
During break time, a few of us were sitting comfortably around a coffee table talking about lots of different topics, including 80s television shows. The conversation shifted to favorite childhood crushes. As people fondly revealed their crushes, I cleverly avoided, as I was so used to doing. Until someone said, we still haven’t heard Derek’s answer. The person next to me jokingly said, “I bet it was ‘Tootie’ from the Facts of Life.” (If you’re too young to remember, this was an 80s television show, and “Tootie” was Kim Field’s character). I felt a huge rush of anxiety before finally saying, “Actually. It was Tom Cruise.” And there it was again. Disclosure, but in a different way. Again, I had to decide if and how I would do so.
As someone who has grown up with multiple marginalized identities, much of life has been about contradictions – contradictions about my intrinsic speaking patterns versus what my speaking patterns were expected to be; contradictions about how I wanted to love versus how I was expected to love; and contradictions about how my skin color mattered to me versus how it mattered to others. When your identities aren’t reinforced by your environment, aren’t the norm for your environment, and few role models exist to help you navigate it all, you have to learn ways to make life satisfying. I know all too well the experience of hiding, challenging other’s assumptions about me, and what it means to bounce back in the face of adversity. I don’t usually offer up a lot of myself in a conversation, more out of habit than anything else, and most of the time, people get to know me on a deeper level because they take the initiative. But now, with this article, I decided to take the initiative and offer three takeaways of what I have learned about resiliency – what keeps me “bouncing back” in the face of adversity.
Seek out spaces that validate your identities.
The classic saying “variety is the spice of life” rings true for me. The world is so connected, especially through social media platforms, that there are plenty of ways to find spaces that honor who we are. When I was growing up, there were very few spaces to explore my identities. It was mostly “grin and bear.” Support groups certainly existed, but I did not find them. Finding people who could motivate and support me in the right ways was important to my resiliency.
You can always take advantage of another opportunity.
I invited a guest speaker to one of my graduate classes to speak about working for contract companies. One of my students asked the speaker for advice on getting stuck somewhere that you don’t like. Before the speaker responded directly to the question, she said, “First, I would say that you are never stuck.” I have since thought about how this profound principle applies to so many situations. Many times, I dwelled on situations that did not go well. If I spoke and stuttered in a way I was not pleased with, it was as if that was the end. I remained stuck in my thoughts and feelings. Part of my resiliency was learning that even when situations don’t go as you would like them to, you can always try again. You can always prepare for the next time. You are not defined by one moment. Instead, it’s about how you transcend the moment. No one will remember (or care) how much I blocked from a prior conversation.
We are always a work in progress.
Sometimes, people are surprised when I say that I still get nervous on the first day of teaching. The truth is, yes, I do. Whenever I am in a committee meeting, and the facilitator of the meeting asks for introductions, my heart still skips a beat. I still feel the lump in my throat when the person right before me speaks, knowing that I will be next. And if I stutter on my name or anywhere else in the introduction, I can still feel embarrassed. Whenever I am asked about dating or relationships, I may still dance around the answer, depending on who I am talking to. As a Black person, I still make cultural adjustments when I am in environments where I am the minority. I may not always make the most ideal choices, but I make the choices that are best for me, given the situation. We are always a work in progress – sometimes we step forward, and sometimes we step back. Resiliency for me is not giving myself a hard time when I take a step backwards. It’s knowing that’s it’s okay to sometimes not be okay, and the okay moments will keep coming back.
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